Jonathan Levy reflects on six months as a vegan.
Right about the time I became vegan, I remember having a conversation with a hardcore PETA vegan about the possibility of ethically slaughtering animals. (Seriously, though, I’m not just saying this. She actually works for PETA in LA.) I was, and to a certain degree still hold the belief that if you want to eat meat you should be willing and able to demonstrate an ability to slaughter the animal in which you are going to eat. We have become so far disconnected from where our food actually comes from and how it is raised that I feel like this is a reasonable expectation. She, as you can imagine, would have nothing to do with that idea.
I spent Thanksgiving 2013 in rural El Salvador with a friend who lives here in LA but is from “over there,” as they say. We stayed with her family in the house that she grew up in. For one meal we ate red bean, white rice, homemade, unpasteurized cheese, homemade corn tortillas and chicken. The only thing was, the chicken came from their backyard, and up until it was time to prepare dinner, the chicken was alive. Although I didn’t personally see the slaughtering of the chicken, I was impressed to learn that my friend’s 13 or 14 year old cousin had slaughtered and prepared it; impressed for no other reason than the fact that he did it all by himself, and at such a young age. Could I do that? Obviously, if I had absolutely no choice; if it was me or the chicken, I would win. But this was different. This seemed more optional. I remember the whole process creeping me out, but when it was all said and done, I ate some of it.
Fast forward to last weekend. I was with friends at a vegan-friendly restaurant. When I say vegan-friendly, I simply mean that there were options for me, without any meal customization. I would say that about mid-way through the meal I noticed a fish tank that was partitioned into two sections: lobsters on the right and crabs on the left. The lobsters seemed pretty mellow. Stacked two high with their claws banded shut, they didn’t move much. The crabs, on the other side, moved around much more violently. They were stacked three high and wouldn’t stop moving. It’s not clear to me if they were fighting or just moving around, but it didn’t look enjoyable. At one point, the crabs stacked themselves so high that one of them pulled himself over into the lobster side of the tank. Fortunately for him, the lobster claws were rendered useless on account of the bands. Occasionally a server would walk over to the tank, check the weight of them, and then bring him to the back. I specifically remember watching a lobster disappear into the kitchen, only to return on a plate battered and fried for a customer.
Something about this process just seemed so messed up. I am not looking to start a debate as to whether a crustacean feels pain when being tossed into boiling water…that’s not the point. This just, for the first time, sincerely bothered me. Even more so was the fact that everyone else in the restaurant went on without a care in the world. I have a feeling that if I were to have surveyed all the patrons in the restaurant, most, if not all would report an unwillingness to kill the food in which they were to eat.
This got me thinking: It’s not good enough to go to a regular restaurant and veganize their menu for them. To me that says, “We’ll do the right thing if our customers ask for it, but if they don’t then we are going to give them what they want.” That’s bullshit. There is a quotation allegedly from Thomas Jefferson that hangs in the main breakroom of one of my past employers that says,
“What you are when no one is looking is what you will be when you least expect.”
I’m sure this message is intended to remind employees not to steal from their employer, but it has become my ethos; something that I live and breathe.
It is not good enough to do something only when it is easy or convenient. Far more powerful is the person who stands up for what he believes in, regardless of setting or context.
My request of you is that you stand up for what you believe in, even when the going gets tough. For me personally in this context, it means supporting vegan restaurants and introducing my friends to them to. It means not settling for the house salad without meat, cheese or dressing because that’s the only option for me.
So here I am, six months later, in the best physical and mental shape of my life. I do crave meat from time-to-time, but the cravings feel more distant and weaker. I still believe to a point that if you are going to eat an animal, you should not only be willing to, but actually slaughter the animal. As time goes on, this seems to be less and less important to me and, to be honest, the thought of doing so creeps me out so much that I don’t think I could do it, or even want to, for that matter.
Let us take a look at this from a zero waste standpoint. Livestock have a huge carbon footprint. They consume an enormous amount of food and water in addition to being the largest worldwide contributors of global warming (methane gas emissions). Fish and other sea creatures also have a huge impact, but in a different way. Humans are depleting them at such a rapid rate that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.
It is easy to take a piece of meat from a Styrofoam tray wrapped in cellophane and throw it on the grill. Far more difficult is it to kill a living being, chop it up into manageable sections, and then cook it. I have a feeling that if humans only ate animals that we killed ourselves, we would eat a lot less meat, which would have a profound impact on, food insecurity, drought and climate change. It would also help us become more in touch with where our food comes from. When we educate ourselves so that we may truly understand where our food comes from and the resources that it took to make it we as a society are much better off.
This article was originally published on Zero Waste Guy.